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Boss’s Tip of the Week #14: Meetings: How To Chart an Effective Course

Here is the latest installment of the Boss’s Tip of the Week.  This advice column for managers is brought to you by Bob Rosner and Allan Halcrow, co-authors of The Boss’s Survival Guide.

Imagine that you’ve just arrived in a city you’ve never visited before, and you’ve rented a car. As you leave the airport, you discover that there are no traffic signs in the city – no stop or yield signs, no speed limit postings, not even any street signs. If you can get to your destination at all, you won’t get there efficiently – and the journey will be pretty scary.
 
And yet many bosses who would never leave the airport without turn-by-turn directions will call a meeting with no agenda (or a poor agenda) and then express bewilderment that the ensuing free-for-all didn’t yield good results.
 
Meetings can be productive, but to be productive they need a clear purpose (for more about that, see Boss’s Tip of the Week #2) and they need a good agenda. Too many people confuse an agenda with a grocery list: They list everything that everyone wants, usually in whatever order it occurs to them. But an agenda is more than a list of topics. Agendas should include:

  • The time, location and duration of the meeting.
  • Topics to discussed, in order of importance. How many meetings have you been to in which the most important subject was given short shrift at the end after time was wasted on trivia? It happens because people convince themselves that getting the small stuff out of the way is more efficient. It isn’t. Start with the most pressing matter and proceed in order of diminishing importance.
  • Clear direction. Sometimes you want to pick people’s brains or weigh the pros and cons of a decision; other times you want to get something done. Labeling agenda items “For Discussion” or “Action Item” helps people to understand what’s expected and to keep on track.
  • Allocated time for each agenda item. People who chronically run overlong meetings would do well to serve penance writing a primetime drama, such as Mad Men. That’s because the writers of such shows are forced to figure out how to move the story along and incorporate all the characters within a finite time frame. They decide what’s most important each week and then pace the episode accordingly. You can do the same. If you distribute an agenda showing that 40 minutes of a 60-minute meeting will be devoted to a single topic, people will know what to expect and how to focus their energy.
  • Assigned pre-work. Meetings become time wasters when the assembled group doesn’t have the information it needs. Review your agenda. If there’s information you need at the meeting – financial data, status reports, sales histories – assign someone the responsibility of bringing that information o the meeting (and doing any work that might be required to get it in advance.) Making such assignments public on the agenda boosts the peer pressure to get it done; that’s a good thing.
  • Desired outcomes. What do you want to happen at the end of the meeting? If you don’t know, you’re not ready to have the meeting. When you do know, include it in the agenda. Everyone in the room should understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

For tips on running effective meetings, see future columns.

Boss’s Tip of the Week #14: Meetings: How To Chart an Effective Course
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19 Responses to “Boss’s Tip of the Week #14: Meetings: How To Chart an Effective Course”

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